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Thursday, 15 May 1980
Page: 2362

Senator COLSTON (Queensland) - I want to make some comments this evening about questions that we ask during the question period when we first gather each day. Most senators who ask questions are in fact seeking information. On occasions of course some political questions are asked and these are accepted by both sides. When senators are seeking information they, of course, look forward to receiving an answer. Most senators, when they are looking for factual information, realise that sometimes the Minister cannot answer at the time but hope that he will be able to provide the information later. Unfortunately this year I have been left high and dry on four occasions when I have been seeking some factual information from the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick). I have been told on each occasion words to the effect that the information will be provided at a later date. Unfortunately it reached the stage that on 23 April I put four questions on notice to the Leader of the Government in the Senate asking for the information which had been promised at an earlier time when I had asked the questions without notice at Question Time. One question in particular has prompted me to comment this evening. On 2 April this year I asked a question in relation to de facto wives. I will read the question because it is pertinent. I asked:

My question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister is prompted by a case of a man with a de facto wife being informed that he could not claim his de facto wife as a dependant for income tax purposes; on the other hand, the de facto wife was informed that she was not eligible for unemployment benefit because she was living in a de facto relationship. Do the Taxation Office and the Department of Social Security use different definitions for 'spouse' or 'dependent'? If so, are some people disadvantaged because of the lack of common policy?

Senator Carrickreplied:

I am not informed on this matter. I will seek the information and let the honourable senator know.

That was asked on 2 April. By 23 April I had not received the information. I had not received information on a number of other questions asked of the same Minister. So among the four questions I put on notice on 23 April was this one:

Senator COLSTON:To ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister- is the Minister now able to provide further information in relation to Senator Colston's questions without notice (see Senate Hansard, page 1331), dated 2 April I 980, relating to the case of a man claiming a de facto wife as a dependant for income tax purposes.

I was amazed today to read in the Senate Hansard for 14 May that Senator Chipp asked on 17 April a similar question on notice. I think that probably what happened was that Senator Chipp heard my question on 2 April, realised by I 7 April that no answer had been provided and asked a very similar question. The question on notice was:

Senator Chipp asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 17 April 1980:

Is there an inconsistency in the treatment of de facto relationships in that a man supporting a dependent de facto wife is eligible for pensions and benefits at the married rate, but is taxed as a single person; of so, will the Minister take action to remove any such inconsistency.

There is a slight difference in the thrust of my question of 2 April and the thrust of Senator Chipp 's question of 17 April. The Senate Hansard for 14 May contains an answer to that question. In some respects the answer to that question answers my question of 2 April. The answer provided by Senator Carrick to the question on notice from Senator Chipp states:

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Eligibility for social security pensions and benefits and entitlement to income tax dependent rebates are distinct and separate matters controlled by separate policies and statutory provisions. The relevant provisions of the income tax law- the underlying policy of which has remained constant since 1936- apply to all de facto relationships, not only to those where the parties are in receipt of social security benefits.

Although that answer did not provide the full answer to my original question of 2 April it did give some of the information that I required. I think it is a bit rude that, having asked a question on 2 April, having been promised that information will be given to me, not having had a reply by 23 April and putting a question on notice, I then found in yesterday's Hansard an answer to a question on notice to a very similar question. It seems to me that if that answer could be provided to Senator Chipp, who had asked a question on notice on 17 April, the answer to my question on 2 April when I was promised information, should have been given. I suggest that when senators are given an undertaking that they will be given information that information should be given to them as soon as possible.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- The question is: 'That the Senate do now adjourn'.

Senator Robertson - You do not even get a reply to your complaint!

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